Mon, Feb 28, 2005 - Page 20 News List

Deng knows where he stands

NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION The Chicago Bulls forward is the only player in the league that's from England, and he says he always worked hard at hoops

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORKAP, PHILADELPHIA

Luol Deng of the Bulls dunks the ball against the Bucks on Dec. 16, 2004, in Chicago. The Bulls won the game 85-77.

PHOTO: AP

On the London streets where soccer is king and rugby and cricket are also in the royal court, basketball is an afterthought.

Luol Deng played anyway. In hotbeds and obscure alleys, the basketball court has always been his refuge, if not his identity.

Deng, a 6-foot-8 small forward, is the NBA's only player from England, his adopted homeland.

"If you ask me where my home is, I'd say London," Deng said. "My nationality, I'm Sudanese. That's where I was born. That's where my ancestors are from. That's my blood."

And that's why, as a member of the Dinka tribe, basketball is his birthright. Manute Bol, the most well-known Dinka to play in the NBA, offered Deng and his three brothers instruction.

From his father, Aldo, Deng learned to work hard and to take nothing for granted.

Aldo Deng, a former transportation minister in Sudan, was jailed for six months amid warfare in 1989. The family was forced to move after the government was overthrown, and after a stop in Egypt, England granted them asylum.

One of nine children, Deng was 5 when he followed his older brothers to the basketball court.

By the time Deng was 12, he was practicing with a professional club, the Brixton Topcats. By the time he was 14, he had given up soccer and moved, alone, to New Jersey, where he attended Blair Academy, a boarding school.

After a season at Duke with coach Mike Krzyzewski, Deng is starting to find his true home in Chicago.

"I knew when I left Duke after one year that I was going to jump in with two feet," Deng said. "There's no looking back. This is what I really wanted to do."

Averaging 12.5 points and 5.6 rebounds entering Saturday night's game at Charlotte, Deng is one of four key rookies for the Bulls, who are surging since their rocky start.

"We learned how to win when we were 0-9," Deng said. "We learned what we were doing wrong, and that was not coming out with a lot of energy."

That has changed with his fellow rookie Ben Gordon coming off the bench, complementing Deng.

"One thing about Lu and Ben, they are fearless," Bulls General Manager John Paxson said in a telephone interview. "They play confidently. This league can be humbling in some ways, and Lu always picks himself up and keeps moving."

Paxson tells of the time when Deng had his worst game at Duke, shooting 1 for 13. Deng virtually locked himself in the gym, and three days later he had his best game.

"He's a skilled player and a relentless worker," Paxson said. "People questioned his athleticism, but he is relentless in how he approaches the game, which is unique for a 19-year-old."

Deng, with his background and with his pride about the sport in England, is certainly not typical. "It's not as big as it is here; I wish it was," he said. "The thing about it in London, there are so many players who are doing well. It's waiting for more attention. I think the game is going to keep on growing."

Chris Webber failed to convert a last-second layup after grabbing an offensive rebound off an intentionally missed free throw, spoiling his debut for the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night in a 101-99 loss to the Sacramento Kings.

"I told Chris that the rebound was going to come long. Everything happened right," Allen Iverson said. "We just couldn't finish it."

Webber had 16 points, 11 rebounds and three steals in his first game with his new team. Strangely, it came against the team that traded him less than 72 hours earlier.

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